RIP, Mars Phoenix Lander

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Yesterday, NASA announced that the Mars Phoenix Lander has died. Okay, they said that the lander had "ceased communications" and that the lander had "finish[ed] successful work," both of which are merely euphemisms for its tragic death after five months of lonely toil on Mars.

The Mars Phoenix Lander's death is not unexpected. It landed in a polar region of Mars, because that's where the ice is. But it's also where it gets real darn cold during the Martian winter, and at this point, Phoenix (and its batteries) are freezing solid -- there's no hope that this robot will magically survive for five years like the Mars Rovers which are near the Martian equator, where the temperature ranges from -130 degrees F in the winter to a toasty 95 degrees F in the summer. For the record, Phoenix did indeed find ice, fulfilling its mission.

Phoenix was highly anthropomorphized during its mission, with its team continually posting tweets (Twitter messages) in the voice of the lander. Its final message came yesterday in an uncharacteristic binary code: "01010100 01110010 01101001 01110101 01101101 01110000 01101000 <3" Translated from binary, this reads "Triumph" with a "heart" emoticon at the end. On October 31, things were looking grim for Phoenix. It posted the message, "The team has me on extreme 'bed rest' to recharge power supply. There's cautious optimism about pulling out of this in a few days." Four days later: "I'm resting a lot but still communicating with orbiters once per day. Still hoping to get a bit of strength back & maybe do more science." Just before its death, Phoenix held a contest to have humans write its epitaph. Nearly 1,000 epitaphs were submitted. The winners, by popular vote:

1. Veni, vidi, fodi. (I came, I saw, I dug)
Graham Vosloo

2. So long and thanks for all the ice.
D. Adams

3. It is enough for me. But for you, I plead: go farther, still.
Fernando Rojas

As Dylan Thomas wrote, "Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Rest in peace, brave lander.

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November 11, 2008 - 10:41am
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